Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

July 27, 2012

Taking ownership of ‘Katy the Cow’ amid the fellowship of the state fair

— — Between the Buchanan County Fair last week and the upcoming Mercer County, Tazewell County and West Virginia state fairs, it is safe to say fair season has hit the two Virginias.

Whether strolling across the Gary Recreational Field in McDowell County, across the Tazewell County Fairgrounds or around PikeView High School in Mercer County, each locality seems to have its own special version of fair flare.

I have to say, a county fair was one of the few things I didn’t have growing up. Rutherford County was just so close to Nashville that instead of having a county fair, we all just piled in the car and drove the 30-odd miles to the State Fairgrounds during the summertime.

The Tennessee State Fair was larger than an average county fair and, unlike most local fairs, it wasn’t as likely you would run into everyone you had ever met on the midway. However, there were still the farming, craft and baking contests as well as plenty of games, carnival food and rides.

As strange as this sounds, there was one reason why I always wanted to go to the Tennessee State Fair and her name was Katy the Cow. Most women wouldn’t be pleased to have such a large bovine named after them, but it thrilled me to no end that there was a cow that spelled Katy the right way, which is to say my way.

Katy was a huge red Jersey cow that Mayfield Dairy always brought to the fair with Ben the Bull and, later, a calf added to the family. They also brought Maggie, the giant plastic fake cow that was taller than some of the fair tents. However, the real cows got much more attention from the crowds. The whole idea was to promote their dairy products, but I didn’t exactly get that message.

Being little, I thought everything with my name on it was mine, so I sort of adopted Katy as “my cow.” She was a prize-winner too, with plenty of blue ribbons adorning her stall. I’m not sure if she got the prize for producing the most milk or just being the biggest cow there, but it seemed like she could earn either easily.

In addition to the cow, there were plenty of other animals to look at during the fair, whether in the petting zoo or as competitions. Many a fair visit led me to bid my parents — unsuccessfully as you might guess — for a goat, rabbit, chicken, baby duckling, horse, pony, sheep and a myriad of other animals. My dad usually answered with a straightforward “no” while my mother told me to ask the nearby farmers how much work went into raising one of these beasts.

To make up for the fact that we weren’t getting a new pet, my parents would try to soften the blow with some old-fashioned carnival food. Cotton candy, funnel cakes and popcorn were favorites, especially since deep-frying everything from pickles to Coca-Cola to Oreos to butter wasn’t exactly in fashion during those times. Of course, you had to be careful with fair food. Drop your popcorn and there was no way Mom or Dad would buy you another, even if you cried. Looking back, it was probably because of how much that popcorn cost.

To get out of the heat and away from the animal smells, we usually found ourselves in the semi-air conditioned buildings that housed the craft exhibits. These were typically the events my mother and grandmother made everyone come see and often bored us little kids to tears.

Little did I know then how bloodthirsty the entire business of arts and crafts could be. When I got a little older, I realized how women from all over the state competed to make these elaborate quilts and enter them into contests. For some women, their entire reputation rested on whether or not they won. Quilting was just the tip of the iceberg. The fair had displays of oil paintings, glass blowing, jewelry crafting, wood carvings, spinning, weaving, handmade clothing, photography, and now even has a floral arrangement contest with a Christmas wreath component.

The cooking contests were pretty cutthroat, too, though I didn’t really care to look at ribbon-winning pies and canned goods I wasn’t going to get to eat.

Being a big agriculture state, there were also contests for milk and cheese making, meat and the best “Tennessee country ham.” That’s right, folks: no hams from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia or either of the Carolinas need apply.

I suppose those contests are the point of the fair to many, showcasing the best the locality has to offer, whether it be who makes the best apple butter or who can sheer a sheep in the quickest time frame. For others, it’s a gathering place, a time to run into old friends, family and others who you might not regularly see.

Fairs are a tradition that continue and remain similar as time goes along. They combine all the things we as human beings love: fellowship, entertainment, friendly competition and, of course, funnel cake.

Kate “Katy” Coil is a reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at kcoil@bdtonline.com

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